The FBI Wants Speedy DNA Analysis Added To Its Biometric Dragnet

from the to-preserve-the-integrity-of-your-precious-bodily-fluids dept

The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) database has been discussed here several times, thanks to its “expeditious” blend of criminal and non-criminal data, its postponed-forever Privacy Impact Assessment the agency has been promising since 2008, the limited, four-state rollout of facial recognition software with a 20% error rate, and its peculiar exclusion of DOJ/law enforcement employees from its lifelong criminal database monitoring.

It appears the FBI isn’t satisfied with the wealth of biometric information it already has access to. It’s grabbed everything external it can possibly get (faces, distinctive marks, fingerprints, civil/criminal records, voice recordings, iris scans [coming soon!]). Now, it’s coming for what’s inside you.

The FBI is preparing to accelerate the collection of DNA profiles for the government’s massive new biometric identification database.

Developers of portable DNA analysis machines have been invited to a Nov. 13 presentation to learn about the bureau’s vision for incorporating their technology into the FBI’s new database.

So-called rapid DNA systems can draw up a profile in about 90 minutes.

DNA has been an integral part of criminal investigations for a number of years now and there’s no question it has played an important role both in securing convictions and exonerating the falsely accused. But what the FBI is proposing is adding input from lab-in-a-box setups that return pass/fail DNA matches in a relative instant.

Rapid DNA analysis can be performed by cops in less than two hours, rather than by technicians at a scientific lab over several days. The benefit for law enforcement is that an officer can run a cheek swab on the spot or while an arrestee is in temporary custody. If there is a database match, they can then move to lock up the suspect immediately.

What used to take days in a secure, sterile lab now can apparently be accomplished in the “field” in a couple of hours. All technological improvements aside, this would appear to be a much less reliable method. Field drug testing kits have been available for years — which utilize nothing more complex than chemical reactions — and they’ve been shown to be far more unreliable than those utilizing them would have you believe. The same can most certainly be said about portable or on-site units wholly divorced from the normal constraints of a lab setting.

The government (so far) realizes this. That’s why DNA obtained and analyzed by these units aren’t included in the national DNA database. Only results from accredited public-sector laboratories are accepted. The companies manufacturing these devices are obviously interested in seeing this law changed. In the meantime, they’ve pushed for states to create their own DNA databases.

The FBI would like to see this changed as well, going so far as to issue a statement that is mostly wishful thinking.

FBI officials say their program does not impact any laws currently governing the operation of CODIS. Rapid DNA techniques in booking stations, “will simply expedite the analysis and submission of lawfully obtained samples to the state and national DNA databases,” [Ann] Todd, the FBI spokeswoman, said.

Except that it would impact laws governing CODIS… as they are today.

A legislative tweak is needed to allow DNA processed by a portable machine to be entered into the FBI’s systems, bureau officials acknowledge.

Again, the FBI places efficiency above everything else. “Tweaking” the law to include portable devices would “expedite” the filling of the FBI’s biometric database. Faster is better, even if the analysis method isn’t as reliable as that performed by accredited labs. False positives/negatives are just the acceptable collateral damage of “combating crime and protecting the United States.”

There’s a huge backlog of untested DNA waiting for CODIS-qualified lab analysis. Offloading some of the work to private labs or portable devices sounds like a great way ease that congestion, but it actually could create more problems. If the government believes that only its chosen labs are capable of producing solid analysis, fixes like those suggested by three California Congressional reps would ask law enforcement (including the FBI) to decide which evidence goes the Gold Standard labs and what gets passed along to the lesser, unproven venues.

When presented with this set of options, law enforcement may prioritize cases badly, routing “time-sensitive” evidence through unproven but quicker analysis while sending out anything that can “wait” to the government’s labs. Basically, without an across-the-board certification of all methods (with rigid testing and re-testing to ensure quality) as being equal, there’s a good chance collected DNA will be treated just as prejudicially as the suspects themselves. And, if the expansion of CODIS inputs isn’t handled with rigorous oversight, the chances of the guilty going free and the innocent being imprisoned increases.

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Comments on “The FBI Wants Speedy DNA Analysis Added To Its Biometric Dragnet”

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That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

How about the first tweak is we stop letting them do this?

The simple fact they move to exclude themselves show THEY have a problem with it, if it isn’t good enough to include them for some reason then it should be scrapped.

We need to stop playing games where in a country where everyone is equal some still get “special” rights and considerations. Especially those charged with upholding the law when there is clear evidence that they are mere mortal who violate it as well.

That One Guy (profile) says:


The simple fact they move to exclude themselves show THEY have a problem with it, if it isn’t good enough to include them for some reason then it should be scrapped.

I’d lean more towards the idea that they excluded themselves from it because they were worried it might be a bit too effective, though your idea is certainly viable as well.

Alternatively, and just as bad, it could be due to simple hypocrisy, where they have no problem throwing everyone else into their massive database, but consider it a violation of their privacy and rights to be treated the same.

Anonymous Coward says:

[…]and its peculiar exclusion of DOJ/law enforcement employees from its lifelong criminal database monitoring.

You know, sometimes I feel like going to the nearest police station and asking how one goes about joining the Mafia, or Illuminati, or whoever it is that sets up all this stuff. They don’t get groped at airports, they get better health care, and they get excluded from all that Big Brother surveillance stuff. And even if you do something absurd, like shooting helpless people or raping little girls, all the other collaborators/cultists/whatever go to ridiculous lengths to keep you from being punished for it.

I’m not interested in getting away with murder or rape, but the other benefits sound nice. There should be more details on how to join that exclusive club of theirs.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: A rough approximation of the steps needed

Step one: Be a sociopath.

Step two: Learn how to fake empathy for, and interest in, those around you and their concerns and problems.

Step three: Using the skills developed in step two, run for public office, saying whatever it is you think will get you more votes.

Don’t worry about keeping any of those promises, most people have short memories, and even if they remember a broken promise, you can always dodge the issue whenever it’s brought up by claiming there are more important things to focus on.

However, under no circumstances get caught in a scandal or act that is remotely sexual in nature. Supporting mass spying and rights violations may be accepted by cowards(and you can always attack those that aren’t cowards by accusing them of supporting terrorists/criminals/pedophiles), but they will roast you alive if you get caught getting a BJ.

Step four: Using your ‘experience’ and name recognition from step three, gradually work your way up the ladder into more and more powerful positions.

Step five: Once you’ve made it high enough, feel free to completely forget and ignore step two, at that point the only people who can really take you to task for your actions will refuse to do so due to self-interest.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: A rough approximation of the steps needed

Excellent guide, and sadly, all too true.

“they will roast you alive if you get caught getting a BJ.”

That’s only due to the Internet. In the pre-internet era, leaders could indulge themselves with impunity, confident that the press would stay dutifully silent (no DrudgeReport back then). Just think of Roosevelt or Kennedy’s extra-marital indulgences (or worse, career politician Strom Thurmond) despite those ‘non-scandals’ happening in a more puritanical era, when even divorced/remarried people were considered unelectable.

teka (profile) says:

This worries me for reasons in addition to the personal privacy and security reasons.

Say a blood sample from your physical gets processed by one of these mobile fast ‘labs’ and gets ‘tweaked’ into the records. Now, something happens. Maybe you disappear, maybe you are accused of some crime, either way some evidence has to be processed and you are not around as a baseline comparison.

How will the police or feds get a comparison? why, they’ll get the records from the FBI! And now the unreliable lab test is there to tell them that they must have found someone hair or blood belonging to someone else under the victims fingernails/in the murderer’s basement. Either way.

Once something is in a database it gets treated like cosmic truth carved in stone tablets.. adding garbage is more than bad public policy, it’s bad law enforcement.

Tweak (profile) says:

Money and power

Don’t forget that as blood is collected from every newborn to test for genetic disorders, that information is also undoubtedly stored elsewhere. Not only does my state maintain a database of DNA sequences for all persons convicted of felonies and misdemeanors (and desires to make it mandatory for arrestees), but it keeps the genome of my young child as well.

What could be gleaned from this sort of information? Well, I’d be willing to bet health (and other) insurance companies would love each and every person’s DNA sequence. They’d probably pay a pretty penny too.

It also strikes me as terribly wrong to forcibly collect and store permanently the DNA of people arrested at, say, a protest.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

DNA is much like fingerprinting

…or any other biometric identifier, in that it is a forensic device by which to detect the circumstances of a crime scene.

Yes, it is not always reliably accurate and can be abused by the Department of Justice (or in rarer cases, the defense).

Yes, a database of civilian DNA samples would be privacy-invasive the way that a database of civilian fingerprints would be.

Yes, our Law Enforcement is less interested in solving crimes than they are in securing convictions even of innocent people, and to be sure, DNA evidence gathered by law enforcement will only be available in cases where it helps the prosecution. If such evidence is secured but points to a different party, it will not be made available for the defense. And until this practice changes, our law enforcement shouldn’t be trusted with it, or any criminal investigation tools at all, really.

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